Will the little town of Medley have a real mayoral election next week, or just an exercise in make-believe in which the ballots for only one candidate are counted? That’s up in the air after a flurry of last-minute legal action on Mayor Roberto Martell’s attempt to get his only challenger kicked out of the race.
A Miami-Dade County judge last week rejected Martell’s request for an order to block elections officials from counting any votes cast for challenger Lily Stefano, who Martell says hasn’t lived in Medley long enough to run for mayor.
But late Tuesday afternoon, an appellate court agreed to consider Martell’s emergency appeal of the ruling, putting the election back into legal limbo. The Third District Court of Appeal gave Stefano and Martell until 9 a.m. Friday to file written arguments.
The appellate court could rule before Tuesday, or delay until after the election to see if a decision is even necessary — if voters choose Martell, the case is moot. But waiting might put the judges in the politically delicate position of overturning an election, in effect, by seating a mayor who voters rejected.
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That dilemma was created by the lawsuit Martell filed in late September, in which he accused Stefano, 52, a charity manager, of faking her residence in Medley with an empty house trailer into which she didn’t actually move until after the deadline for filing her candidacy.
Stefano countered that Martell had sent supporters to spy on her and even peek in her bedroom window in an effort to bolster the lawsuit.
Martell’s lawsuit asked the court to either toss Stefano off the ballot — a move elections officials said was impossible at this late date — or order that her votes not be counted. But Circuit Judge William Thomas last week rejected the mayor’s arguments, saying he hadn’t presented enough evidence to get an injunction and, moreover, that “a free election in a democracy is a political matter to be determined by the electorate and not the courts.”